Carmell Jackson is the owner of Melly Mell’s Catering, which focuses on Southern comfort food: greens, yams, fried fish and chicken. She is also one of the five recipients of the Market Ready Program with the Madison Public Market.
Jackson says that being accepted to the market will help expand Southern comfort food to the entire Madison area, a type of cuisine that Jackson says is rare in Madison.
“We will have a place to serve our food on a daily basis, and give people easier access to Melly Mell’s food, instead of having to book a catering job,” Jackson says. “For me, it is something different, something that includes lots of diversity and all different types of businesses and people, something that was offered to me that I had no idea existed.”
The Madison Public Market will have room for 30 permanent, “anchor” vendors, and is set to be able to host over 130 different vendors every year. As of today, only five vendors have been confirmed for the market, those who have been accepted to the market’s Market Ready Program. In addition to securing a spot in the market, those five vendors will also receive $19,000 to support their operation.
Being able to operate out of the Madison Public Market is very personal to Jackson, because to her, it’s home.
“It’s a spot that feels more at home to me,” Jackson says, “I went to East High School right down the street, I played at Tenney Park, I’ve had many friends in Maple Bluff. These are streets that I’ve played on, so being able to have a business here is like giving back to my community.”
After the Madison council passed a budget amendment to fund the Madison Public Market earlier this month, the market has just about passed every hurdle it needs to open its doors in the fall of 2024.
The idea to build a public market in Madison has been tossed around for over 15 years, but in 2015, the Common Council finally approved the project with a $14 million budget.
The Madison Public Market Foundation, who will operate the market, calls the market a, quote, year-round public market where small businesses and minority business owners can get their start. According to the project’s website, it would hold fresh produce, food stands, merchant space for local artists, and community rooms.
It will be located in the former Fleet building on the corner of East Johnson and First Street.
Although they faced some recent inflationary hurdles, the public market has just one more barrier before they can open, which is getting the money for the project awarded to them through the city’s Joint Review Board next March.
James Shulkin, a board member on the Public Market Foundation, says that he was ecstatic when the Common Council approved the needed funding to open their doors.
“I think really some of the discussion around the market by the council members, but also (from) the members of the public, especially some of those Market Ready Program vendors, I think that really made a difference in the minds of the council members,” Shulkin says.
Although only five businesses have been confirmed for the market, there is still room for many more, and many businesses are vying for a spot.
One of those businesses is Madame Chu’s Delicacies, a southeast asian food retailer, selling things like Sambal Nyonya, a sort of red chili paste, and Satay Peanut Nyonya, a peanut and pepper sauce base.
Madame Chu’s Delicacies began in 2017 by Madison resident Josie Chu. Currently, they don’t have a physical storefront, outside of a popup on State Street. Instead, they sell their products at markets around Madison, like the Willy St Coop and Metcalfe’s Market at Hilldale. While Chu has not yet been accepted to the market, she says that she wants to be a part of the market to bring the southeast asian experience to Madison.
“The whole point is, rather than have everybody fly alllll the way to Singapore, to Malaysia, to Indonesia, to experience the cuisine, why not carry that over here, and have everyone else experience it,” Chu says.
And while she has not yet been accepted to the Madison Public Market, Chu says that she’s happy that the project looks to finally be going forward.
“It is like, oh my gosh, we are building a home,” Chu says, “we are building a foundation, we are building a future for all of Madison and future entrepreneurs. It is a fulfillment of a promise to us, it is a place that we can now call home.”
Both Carmell Jackson and Josie Chu say that the market is not just about their own businesses, but about the future as well. Jackson says that she hopes the market will allow her to create a legacy to pass down to those around her who want to continue a career in food.
“It’ll be good for my family, who (will) continue on with the business once I slow down,” Jackson says. “I try to keep it family oriented, and pass things on to my grandchildren and my children, and (also) people in the community who have worked with me for many years, if not through the schools then through my restaurant, to carry on through the public market.”
James Shulkin with the Public Market Foundation says that they will now begin to figure out who their large, permanent tenants will be, and will be able to begin announcing who will be in the market next spring. Entrepreneurs and vendors who want to be involved with the market can apply for a vendor space through the Public Market Foundation’s website.
Photo courtesy: Peter Wendt / UNSPLASH